2 Peter 2:17-19

Hard days, difficult days, many young men who left these shores went because they believed there were certain tyrannies in the world. They felt that these tyrannies would rob people of their freedom, and they decided something had to be done about it, and they did it at phenomenal cost. The result of that is that we enjoy remarkable freedoms in this country! Subsequently, of course, there was a new tyranny that followed on from Nazism, a tyranny that followed the tyranny of the right, and it became the tyranny of the left, and the tyranny of Communism and Marxism. We’ve been delivered from that, and we are an incredibly blest people, but the big question is: What are we doing with our freedom? What are we doing with our liberty? There are limits to liberty! The general idea, of course, is that liberty is all about absence of restraints. If I can just get rid of the restraints I can just be what I want to be, and I can just do what I want to do. What ever feels good, I’ll do it! There’s a fundamental confusion at that point. That is not liberty, that is anarchy. It leads to total chaos!

You see, right from the very beginning of the American experiment, they began to realize that whilst they were rejoicing in their liberty they had to be very careful with this liberty. I mean those old pilgrims who showed up in Massachusetts, they kind of got a little bit adrift and didn’t intend to finish up in Massachusetts, but that’s okay. Under the leadership of John Winthrop, of course they, as the pilgrims, were excited that now they had gotten away from what they regarded as “religious bondage” and now they were free.

But immediately some people began to abuse their freedom. So John Winthrop began to put some limits in place, and some of the people didn’t like that, led by a man called Roger Williams. Roger Williams and John Winthrop didn’t exactly see eye to eye, in fact, they butted heads. There’s no meeting of the minds there, and so in the end John Winthrop took Massachusetts, and Roger Williams went off to Rhode Island and founded the City of Providence.

What was the issue? The issue was what do we do with liberty? What do we do with our freedom? Because freedom isn’t simply living with an absence of restraints. You remember that the Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes came down with a very interesting ruling on one occasion. He said, “Certainly, we have freedom of speech, but your freedom of speech has limits. You are not free to shout fire in a crowded cinema, you can’t say anything you want.”

You say, “Well sure, we have freedom of speech, and freedom of speech has its limits.” You can wave your arms around, you can shake a fist in the air, you can even swing your fist, but your freedom to swing your fist stops where my nose begins and that’s quite a long way in front of my face. Freedom has limits! What are we going to do with our freedoms? We rejoice, of course, that we have what we call “civic freedoms,” those are the freedoms that have been bought for us at phenomenal cost, and we salute those who paid the price. What are we doing as far as our own self-discipline? What are we doing as far as the way we conduct ourselves in what we now fondly imagine to be our wonderful freedom?

In 1774, a man called Nathan Niles wrote this: “By neglecting to embrace the Gospel we convert civil liberty, which is in itself a delicious kind of food, into a slow poison.” That’s a very dramatic statement! Here we have this civil liberty, this is what America is all about! It’s the land of the free; it’s the home of the brave! That is our civil liberty! It’s a delicious food, but it is possible for the delicious food of civil liberty to degenerate into slow poison. That is a chilling thought! I would submit to you it is something that needs to be very, very intentionally confronted in these days. Freedom has its price, and we forget it at our peril.

Now with that in mind we are going to look in Peter’s second epistle, and the second chapter. In this particular chapter, Peter is addressing a serious issue. He says, “that historically, as far as the Children of Israel were concerned, they always had false prophets.” There was a succession of false prophets. If you had a true prophet, you could be sure somewhere along the line, there would be a false prophet, but he says, “In our days, we have false teachers.” He goes on to have some pretty straightforward things to say about the false teachers of his day. Then he projects, and he suggests that the Church should always be alert to the possibility that there are people who will be teaching things that are fundamentally false, and this is how he describes them in 2 Peter 2:17:

These men — false teachers that we have to be on our guard against — are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity — for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.

“A man is a slave to whatever masters him!” Now, is it possible then, that you can live in an arena of freedom, and living in an arena of freedom not even to realize that you’re actually in bondage? Well, let me give you an example that old Nathan Niles, whom I quoted earlier, once gave. He said, “It’s a very strange man who sits in a prison cell and boasts about the fact that he is free from having responsibility of having to go out to work.” Now it is true that he is free from the responsibility of having to go out to work, but is he so excited about his freedom that he can’t see his bondage?

He’s sitting in a prison cell. there’s a fundamental incongruity about this. Is it possible that in the midst of our hard earned civil freedoms, that we could be living in bondage and not even be aware of it? And the answer is an emphatic “YES!” In fact, perhaps the thing that ought to concern us deeply is that in “this land of the free and the home of the brave,” so many are living in bondage and don’t even know it. Now how could this happen? Well, it can happen for the very simple reason that what is so often called “freedom” is in reality bondage.

Let me explain how this happens. You will notice that in 2 Peter 2:18, Peter talks about “those who live in error.” I would submit to you that a person who is taught that which is fundamentally wrong, and builds his life upon that which is fundamentally in error is in bondage to a terrible mistake. For that person is in the sea of bondage, and living a life based on false premises. It’s wrong right from the very start.

Now, one of the things about the false teachers, that Peter is concerned about, is that they have an intense distaste for authority, 2 Peter 2:10, he says, “they despise authority.” They despise the Ultimate Authority, the idea that there is a God who is in charge. They hate the idea that there is an Ultimate Authority; they hate the idea that there is a Final Judgment; they absolutely resist the idea that there is an Eternal Accounting for the way you live your life. The false teaching that they will give, and it’s propagated all the time in our culture, is this: There is no final judgment; there is no Ultimate Authority; you are not eternally accountable. And people build their lives on that. They assume, therefore, that it really doesn’t matter what they do; they are free!

There is nothing like the freedom that says, “I’m not accountable!” “It doesn’t matter what I do!” “It doesn’t matter what I say!” “It doesn’t matter how I treat people!” The person who lives on the basis of this is living a life in error. Peter gives some transient responses. He says, “Listen, those of you who say there’s no Final Judgment, those of you who say there’s no Ultimate Authority, those of you who say there’s no Eternal Accounting.

“Just remember this: God did not let the angels who rebelled get away with it. Just remember this: God did not turn a blind eye to the rebellious people in the days of Noah. Just remember this: God did not let Sodom and Gomorrah get away with it. Why in the world do you think that there is no God, who is the Ultimate Authority, when history is replete with examples of God showing that He’s a holy, righteous, Judge who will not tolerate sin?”

But you see, there are people who have been trapped into this “error teaching.” They have believed a lie, and they have assumed that they are now totally free to do whatever they wish without any ultimate consequences and are living in the bondage of error.

Here’s the second way it can happen. You’ll notice that Peter also says in the reading that I gave to you in 2 Peter 2:18, “that these teachers, mouth empty, boastful words.” The way that people can be led into bondage is not only that the false teachers can teach them that which is fundamentally in error, but secondly, people can be brought into bondage when they are taught things that promise much, but which in actuality are utterly empty. The teachers are promising, “Hey, if you go this way, and you do this, you will find meaning. If you do this, you will find fulfillment. If you engage in all these kind of things, this is where life is to be found.”

Peter says, “In actual fact, all these things that they are propagating, all these things that they are promising are empty, boastful words, and will lead people into ultimate disillusionment and bondage”. Notice the way that he doesn’t mince words to describe these people who will teach you fulfillment is to be found in that which is ultimately empty. He calls them in 1 Peter 2:17, “springs without water and mists driven by a storm.”

Remember that this was written in the Middle East, this letter of Peter’s, for people living in the Middle East. If you’ve had an experience of the Middle East, you know that water is at a premium — isn’t at exactly a premium around here right now. So it’s hard for us to imagine living in that which basically desert and water is the absolute thing that you crave for and long for and guard. Try to imagine somebody living out there. They’ve been on a long journey; their water supply is gone; they’re under the blazing heat; they’re in a baking barren desert. One thought is captivating their minds. What is it? WATER! WATER! But they know where the nearest spring is, and eventually they stagger to the nearest spring and find it is a spring without water. There’s your picture! Great boastful, empty words, promising fulfillment, promising life, people looking for fulfillment, looking for life, looking for meaning, chasing after these things, discovering them to be “wells without water, mists driven by the wind.” There’s a terrible bondage there.

You can live in the land of the free and the home of the brave and be in sheer bondage to error and be utterly in bondage to emptiness. It’s happening all the time!

Jeremiah 2 of his great book, that God’s people have committed two fundamental sins. The first one is that they have forsaken the Lord. The second sin is that they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water, and have hewn out for themselves cisterns, which cannot hold water (Jeremiah 2:13). Two sins — one is to turn away from the One who is the source of life and meaning and fulfillment, and the second sin is to put in His place substitutes which can’t satisfy, cisterns which cannot hold water. Peter picks up on the picture, and he says this: “The days in which you are living are replete with false teachers who will lead you into the bondage of error, and who will lead you into the bondage of emptiness, for they will promise what they cannot deliver.

The third thing that we notice is that these teachers will lead us into bondage by enticing us into that which can never satisfy. You will notice that he talks here about two fundamental things: He talks about sinful human nature, and in Jeremiah 2:20, he talks about something which he calls “the corruption of the world.” Two big problems here: The sinful human nature and the corruption of the world. Here is the human condition: there is us something that is fundamentally corrupt. There is around us in the environment in which we live something else that is fundamentally corrupt. We have a sinful human nature, and we live in a world that is fundamentally corrupt.

Now, those are two major issues. This is the environment in which we have our civic liberties. But if we have our civic liberties and are slaves to our own corrupt sinful nature, and in addition to that, we are dominated by a fundamentally corrupt world around us, guess what? We are slaves to corruption, and we will find ourselves constantly enticed. We will find ourselves enticed by what is without; we will find ourselves drawn away by what is within. When you accumulate the sheer enticing power of what is without, and you marry it to that enticing response that comes from within, guess what? You will find a very high probability that you have found somebody who lives in the land of the free, and the home of the brave in bondage to their own sinful nature and bound by the error and the enticing dynamic of a fundamentally corrupt world. It’s a scary proposition!

But that is what Peter talks about. He says in the old days we had to worry about false prophets, in our contemporary days we have to worry about false teachers, and today what we have to worry about is this simple fact: That we may have some people who will come and listen to a preacher for an hour a week, but unfortunately, there are twenty-three more hours in Sunday, and there are twenty-four hours, six days of the week, and in all of those hours, what are they listening to? What are they exposed to? What are the philosophies? What are the mentalities? What are the theories? What are the skilled communication pieces that are coming their way? What are they bombarded with?

The answer is: They are being bombarded with philosophies that are fundamentally contrary to the God from whom we come, and to whom we’re accountable. To make things worse, we have within us something that is fundamentally corrupt that responds to them, and we find ourselves with civic freedoms living in spiritual bondage. Here’s an interesting thing, the more civic freedoms we have, the more opportunities for bondage are presented to us.

What about economic freedom? Isn’t that something we appreciate? All the opportunities that we have, this is certainly the land of opportunity! There are people who are limited in the opportunities; there are people who traditionally and historically have lived in an underclass, and we must never, never forget how extremely difficult it is for them to break out of it. But for many, many people, America is the Land of Opportunity! There is great economic liberty. There are resources; there’s opportunity, if you go for it. For many people the sky is the limit, and we enjoy our economic freedom.

Have you ever noticed however, the more economic freedom we have, the more in bondage to greed we become? With a continual desire for more and for bigger, and for better? And what has sexual freedom brought us? Bondage to lust! With the resultant and concomitant disaster in the breakdown of marriages and families. Isn’t it interesting, all this enticing stuff about freedom, all the wonderful opportunities that are fundamentally in error, that are utterly empty, desperately enticing, and finish up totally ensnaring. There’s so much one could say about this.

There’s a sort of anomaly here! There’s a paradox here! We’re talking about that which is portrayed as freedom — that is actually bondage.

Now let me give you another one. Let me tell you about something that people think is basically bondage, but is actually the key to freedom.

Two paradoxes! That which people regard as freedom that is really bondage, that which is regarded as bondage that is really freedom. Jesus said this one day, “No man can serve two masters.” We could all relate to that. One of the worst things that could happen in your job is you don’t know who you’re accountable to. You don’t know who your boss is, and you get conflicting orders, and you don’t know who to be loyal too, and you are torn, and it’s a disaster. “No man can serve two masters.”

Let us add, however, to that statement of Jesus, this: “No man can serve two masters, but everybody must serve one!” Everybody must serve one, you know why? Because there is no such thing as ultimate freedom! Even the bird that is “free as a bird” is limited to flying in air. Even the fish that is “free to swim the oceans” is limited to water, and even the human being who thinks in terms of freedom, has got to understand that he or she is mastered by one.

“Well,” you say, “I’m not! I’m free to do whatever I wish”

Well then, that’s good! You are free to do whatever you wish; the only concern you have then is yourself! Let me tell you something. I don’t want to insult you, but the “me” that you’re free to be is corrupt. Have you got that? The “me” that you’re free to be is corrupt. So, the more you are free to be “me,” the more you will find yourself locked in by an intrinsic innate selfishness, and that’s bondage!

Everybody serves one master! Serving fundamentally corrupt “me” that is very vulnerable and susceptible to a corrupt world around is not the way to freedom.

I’ll tell you what the way to freedom is. Instead of being subjected to a basic malevolent mastery, choosing to submit yourself to a benevolent Master, there’s the way to freedom! A benevolent Master who can begin to counter that which, in and of itself, is corrupted in your own sinful nature. A benevolent Master who can begin to alert you to the enticing and snaring blandishments of error and emptiness and a corrupt world outside you. A benevolent Master who can impart to you new desires, new longings, new aspirations, new abilities, new empowerments that will begin slowly, relentlessly to roll back the corruption that is within, that will begin to build a bulwark about that which is corrupt without. And slowly but surely will begin to emancipate you into the wonderful freedom not to do what you wish, but the wonderful freedom to desire what you ought, and to give you the ability to do what you should, and therein lies freedom!

The name of this benevolent Master, you’ve guessed! His Name is Jesus, the One who came and died on a cross for our sins, that we might be freed from the consequences of our sin, and ultimately liberated from the presence of sin, and in the interim through His indwelling presence through the Holy Spirit that we might be emancipated from the power of sin. As He counteracts that inner corruption of the sinful nature, as He builds a bulwark against the corrupting influence from outside, and we begin to discover that freedom isn’t about the absence of restraints that will allow me to do what I wish. But I begin to discover that freedom is all about coming under His benevolent mastery in order that I might be free to desire what I should, and have the power to be what I ought to be. It’s called freedom!

Is it possible that at terrible price, a terrible past, civil freedom was purchased for this country, and yet there are millions of people living in it in bondage who can’t see that whilst they’re free at one level, they’re living in a cell with bars that only Christ can open? I’ll answer my own question! I believe that’s possible. In fact, I believe it is actual. In fact, I think that’s our problem. It is a spiritual issue, that will yield only to spiritual answers. What we need to present is the emancipating message of the Gospel that sets people free, not to be “me” but that sets people free to be his.

Do you know what Jesus said? He said, “Now, if you will follow My teachings, you will become My disciple, but if you become My disciple, you will know THE TRUTH, and THE TRUTH will set you free.” Have you noticed how we love to take a little piece of that quote and carve it into our libraries? How many times have you been through a library that announces THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE. Which TRUTH? That isn’t what Jesus said, what Jesus said is “if you follow My teachings, you will become My disciple, and if you become My disciple, you will know TRUTH, and if you know THE TRUTH, THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE.”

What is the TRUTH? The TRUTH is I come as a willing disciple under the benevolent Lordship of Jesus, and He begins to roll back my spiritual corruption and holds back the external corruption, and as I live in obedience to Him, and trust in His power, I learn the TRUTH that is in Jesus and the TRUTH that is in Jesus sets me free. What a tragedy if this day when we rejoice in the price that was paid for our freedom, we find that instead of living free, we are living in bondage! This Memorial Day could be memorable if for some of us there was a new and a fresh yielding to the benevolent Lordship of Christ, that we might know the TRUTH of discipleship and in the TRUTH of discipleship be set free.

Stuart Briscoe is Minister-at-large at Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, WI, and a Contributing Editor of Preaching.

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